2023 Strategic Trends Glossary

  • Closer alignment of higher education with workforce needs and skills-based learning

    The student population will include a larger proportion of adults at later life stages, as the need for ongoing learning and retooling grows. Technology can enable higher education institutions to reach and serve more adult learners more flexibly.

  • Continuation and normalization of hybrid and online learning

    Across many higher education institutions, the "emergency remote teaching" models adopted during the COVID-19 pandemic will give way to more sustainable and evidence-based models of hybrid online teaching and learning to support students' online preferences.

  • Continued adoption and normalization of hybrid and remote work arrangements

    Higher education institutions experimented with widespread remote working models for health and safety reasons during the COVID-19 pandemic. Moving forward, some institutions may expand remote work policies to include a range of scenarios, from flexible weekly schedules to 100% distributed working environments.

  • Continued resignation and migration of leaders and staff from higher education institutions

    Higher education continues to experience large numbers of employees leaving the sector for a variety of reasons (e.g., remote work opportunities, more work-life balance, increased income). The impacts of these vacancies could include a reduction in the number of courses available, fewer enrollment opportunities, and smaller institutional budgets.

  • Declining public funding for higher education

    Changes in current and potential federal government funding are introducing opportunities and uncertainties for institutional bottom lines, often complicating financial planning and outlook.

  • Expansion of the digital economy, including expanded use of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs

    The growing adoption of blockchain, cryptocurrencies, and NFTs as legitimate market assets will force higher education leaders to reconsider their institutional business models and practices in order to align with consumers' evolving preferences.

  • Expansion of the digital transformation of higher education

    The digital transformation of higher education accelerated dramatically during the COVID-19 pandemic, with many services and operations transitioning to digital or online formats and relying on new technologies. Some institutions will double-down on these efforts in the future, ensuring that these transformations are long-term and comprehensive.

  • Focus on increasing institutional resilience

    ISO (International Organization for Standardization) defines institutional resilience as "an institution's ability to absorb and adapt in a changing environment to enable it to meet its objectives, survive, and prosper." Institutions will need to further develop these abilities in order to thrive.

  • Growing awareness of planetary health and sustainable development goals

    Institutional policies (e.g., work travel, resource consumption) and campus development will need to align with state and federal mandates for sustainability, and higher education leaders will need to affirm the environmental values of their institutions.

  • Growth in demand for nonaccredited training, credentialing, and certification programs

    As companies like Google and Amazon increasingly value non-accredited forms of training and education, more organizations and institutions will seek to hire nontraditional candidates for important leadership and staff positions. Higher education institutions will experience increased competition for student enrollments, as well as new infusions of workforce talent from nontraditional candidate pools.

  • Increasing focus on creating equitable environments

    Higher education institutions will continue to develop and advance their missions and goals for serving diverse student populations and supporting a diverse workforce. Demands from external governing and funding bodies for improved equity in learning outcomes will further reinforce these institutional commitments.

  • Increasing need for data security and protection against threats to personal privacy

    Some governments will continue to move in the direction of imposing sweeping privacy regulations (e.g., GDPR), while others will remain fragmented in their approaches to controlling and safeguarding data. The lack of consistent privacy laws and regulations across state and national borders will result in challenges to compliance and threats to privacy.

  • More attention to well-being and mental health

    Well-being and mental health initiatives at colleges and universities, including emerging technology and application solutions, will need to support the increasing numbers of students and staff who report anxiety, depression, and related conditions.

  • More calls for data-informed decision-making and reporting

    Institutions increasingly rely on data and analytics as one solution for building their resilience against broader social, political, and economic shifts. This reliance on data will require extensive investments in data infrastructures and governance, as well as intentional and coordinated transformation of institutional culture and operations.

  • Need for improved data literacy and skills to keep up with growth in big data and analytics

    Degree programs and curricula must meet the shifting demands of industries and an evolving workforce (e.g., automation, gig economy). The higher education workforce must expand and reskill to accommodate the data and analytics needs of institutions.

  • Redefinition of the form and function of teaching and learning in higher education

    Hyflex, blended, hybrid, flipped, synchronous online, asynchronous online, and virtual learning are some of the varying terms used to label distance learning at different departments and at different institutions, resulting in confusion and ineffective communication among leaders, instructors, students, and other stakeholders. Compliance with federal and state regulations related to distance learning will require commitment to shared definitions.

  • Redesigned and repurposed public facilities and physical spaces

    With the construction of new campus buildings and spaces, higher education leaders will need to address challenges such as accommodating remote learners and workers, integrating foundational accessibility accommodations, and supporting green initiatives for a sustainable campus.

  • Rising costs of higher education as public perceptions of its value are declining

    The return on investment of the traditional college degree is under increased scrutiny, and the perceived value of a degree may experience a sharp decline among some communities and populations.

  • Widening and intensifying national and international political divides

    Heightening tensions between socio-political worldviews have led to increasingly heated debates and conflicts on campuses. In the United States, legislation that could benefit higher education will be difficult to pass through a polarized Congress and entrenched political positions.

  • Widespread efforts to understand and address discrimination and inequity

    Leaders, staff, and students across the institution will be focusing on institutional and individual responsibilities for eliminating injustices.